TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — A group of Broward County residents are suing Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity over the state’s decision to stop jobless Floridians from receiving an additional $300 in weekly benefits.
The lawsuit, filed by attorneys Scott Behren, Gautier Kitchen, and Marie Mattox, names DeSantis, the DEO and its director, Dane Eagle as defendants. It seeks to restore benefits for all unemployed Floridians.
In May, the DEO announced plans to withdraw from the Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation Program, ending the extra $300 per week payments on June 26. Congress had voted to extend the $300 weekly federal unemployment payments through September.
The lawsuit claims Florida wrongly discontinued the benefits in violation of Florida Statues Sections 443.031 and 443.171. It says the plaintiffs have suffered economic hardships and struggled to find work due to COVID-19, and that some risk being evicted.
“If FPUC benefits are terminated in Florida, each of the Plaintiffs and other needy residents of the State of Florida, will be unable to cover basic living expenses such as housing, utilities, food, health care and child care,” the lawsuit states.
The move comes as Florida continues to grapple with the Delta COVID-19 variant, recording more new COVID-19 cases than any other U.S. state. The spike in cases has health officials warning of a 4th wave of COVID-19.
“Going into the fall with the delta variant, we could have a really serious problem with a considerable surge of infections,” said Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy & Infectious Diseases.
8 On Your Side spoke with 68-year-old Harriet Rubin, one of the 10 plaintiffs from Broward County. She said her age has become an obstacle to finding work during the pandemic.
“I think my resume intimidates people and I’ve tried to dumb it down,” Rubin said.
Her daughter, Leah Rubin Burrasca, worked for 21 years in the hospitality industry, but the pandemic pushed her back to school for a career change.
“I was already struggling financially because St. Petersburg rent has been skyrocketing,” she said.
Attorney Scott Behren filed the lawsuit Sunday. He told 8 On Your Side he disputes the claim that some Floridians are satisfied living on unemployment benefits.
“So there’s some who tell me without the federal boost they have $600 dollars a month to pay their bills,” Behren said.
He added the plaintiffs have all indicated they have actively been searching for jobs.
“Most of these people are complaining they cant pay their rent they cant pay for food they cant pay for utilities,” Behren said. “That they’re going to McDonald’s and being told they’re overqualified.”
Behren said he modeled the complaint after similar lawsuits in other states.
In Maryland, for example, Republican Governor Larry Hogan reversed course and agreed to extend pandemic unemployment benefits after a court order.
A spokeswoman for the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity released a statement to 8 On Your Side following the announcement:
On May 12, 2021, the Department announced Florida’s ‘Return to Work’ initiative, which is focused on encouraging Floridians to return to the workforce, helping employers attract job seekers, and continuing to fuel the state’s economic growth. As part of Florida’s Return to Work initiative, the Department announced on May 24, 2021, the state’s withdrawal of the Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation and Mixed Earners Unemployment Compensation programs, which, in compliance with Department of Labor policies, went into effect on June 26, 2021.
The Department withdrew from these programs due to positive, record-breaking economic factors. For 11 consecutive months, Florida’s unemployment rate, currently at 5.0 percent, has remained below the national rate, which is currently at 5.9 percent. For 14 consecutive months, Florida has continuously gained jobs, with more than 907,900 jobs added since the height of the pandemic. Additionally, there are more than 520,000 job postings currently available across Florida.
Florida businesses and employers are hiring across the state and need unemployed Floridians to return to the workforce. The Department stands ready to assist Floridians in this process.Emilie Oglesby
Director of Communications and External Affairs/Florida Department of Economic Opportunity